Thursday, November 13

Playing With Puppets: Coppola And Scion


Scion, created by Toyota to target Generation Y consumers, is about to enter into a living case study that may help answer the question: is Internet buzz enough? The answer is all but predetermined.

While Adrian Si, interactive manager for Scion, told AdvertisingAge that Roman Coppola’s kung-fu-fighting puppets will "resonate with our audience and stay true to the culture of the brand," it’s much more likely the guerrilla marketing-only campaign will be exactly what it sounds like — the “fist of oblivion.” Emphasis on “oblivion.”

As much as brand entertainment might be a boon in the future, Scion has an uphill battle. Its sales are down almost 40 percent in October, compared to the 32 percent plummet across the entire industry. It’s difficult to think that kung-fu puppets, devoid of any value proposition, can change that trend.

It also demonstrates one of the money pitfalls associated with Internet marketing, advertainment, and social media as Scion seems to be promoting a show instead of its product. (I thought we already learned that lesson with Bud.tv, but it seems more people want to learn the hard way.)

The Scion Challenge

According to the article, Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com, empty-niche syndrome is the biggest problem. He told AdAge the “fundamental issue facing Scion is that it is perceived as a niche brand, not a household name." While he is partly right, he's also wrong.

The fundamental problem with Scion is that it is devoid of promoting its unique selling point (even though it has several) and something much worse. Toyota dealerships are reluctant to back the brand.

I know because I was commissioned on a work on a Toyota dealership when Scion was first coming onto the scene in 2003. After presenting an 80-20 budget split, the dealership owner developed a twitch.

“We’re a Toyota dealership,” he told us. “Why on earth would we want to dilute our local marketing budget with another brand, especially one without national brand backing? No, no, if they [consumers] happen to come in looking for one, we’ll sell them one ... but only if we can't covert them to a Toyota.”

Never mind that it was our job to introduce Scion to the local market, much like we introduced the Convertible Beetle and Touareg for Volkswagen. Looking back, I personally thought the local campaign budget needed to be flipped, at least on the front end introduction.

Saturating the local market with Scion advertising would have broken through while the national Toyota campaigns could have taken care of that brand. It wasn't all that different from the model we employed for Volkswagen: push the Convertible Beetle and Touareg because Jetta and Passat buyers were already coming in to buy.

Then again, why bother with logic when you can present kung-fu puppets by Coppola? Why bother when you can force consumers to sit through one full minute introduction only to discover that the puppets don’t even drive Scions? They drive motorcycles.

Add it all up and this campaign may generate a little bit of buzz about the advertainment series and perhaps the overproduced Web site that is a little harder to navigate and sports the same droning car descriptions that you can find from any dealer on the planet. But sell a car? Um, we'll see.

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